Delivering Hope in a Time of Uncertainty
As the refugee crisis continues on the shores of Greece, health care becomes less about saving lives, and more about saving hope.
For the more than 3,000 inhabitants of Skaramagas refugee camp, “home” is either a tent with no protection from the harsh seaside elements of coastal Greece, or a small containment unit with room for two bunk beds. The only bathrooms are a row of portable toilets, typically a five-minute walk from their living quarters. Children wander aimlessly, with no formal school or activities available to them. Depression and post-traumatic stress run rampant, and there is a constant threat of disease from poor hygiene conditions.
“The work that International Medical Corps is doing to respond to the refugee crisis is nothing less than heroic. Their interactions with the families in the camps are so meaningful – the refugees know who they are, they know they can trust them and receive support from them,” says Melissa Walsh, vice president, AbbVie Foundation, who traveled to Skaramagas in August 2016 to witness the impact of International Medical Corps’ efforts.
“People are literally stuck in these camps and there is little clarity around how long they will be there. This is a true humanitarian crisis and the international community must keep focus on the thousands of people who need our help,” Walsh says. “That’s definitely something I took back with me and continue to share with anybody who will listen.”
Roumatsh lives with her family in a trailer at the Skaramagas refugee camp. Located on the shores of Athens, the camp houses more than 3,000 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
Roumatsh was pregnant when her family crossed by dinghy from Turkey to Greece.
Roumatsh: (subtitled): It was very difficult. I thought my kids and husband will get there safely, but I didn’t think I would make it. I was pregnant and the boat was very crowded. My situation wasn’t stable, I thought for sure something bad will happen to me and the baby ... I only felt relief when I got to the island, they ran tests on me and showed me my baby’s heartbeat.
VO: With no reproductive health services within the camp, she struggled to access the prenatal care she needed.
Roumatsh: I didn’t get any help here. I was very unlucky, every time my trip was too long, over an hour, and the hospitals were very far. I would go by bus, then metro then walk in the heat and I am pregnant.
VO: But today, a new option is available for Roumatsh. International Medical Corps, a health care nonprofit that has been handling the health, psychosocial and hygiene needs in the camp, has opened a Reproductive Health Clinic on-site, supported by a grant from the AbbVie Foundation.
Dina Prior, International Medical Corps site director, Greece: There was a real lack of access for pregnant mothers and for women and men in general for family planning. We wanted to make sure that was being added to the overall primary health care that was being provided … Because it’s not just lifesaving. We’re not in that stage right now - people are here, and they are going to be here to stay for quite some time.
VO: Roumatsh was one of the first patients seen at the new clinic. There, she met Melissa Walsh, vice president, AbbVie Foundation, who had been invited to witness the International Medical Corps programs supported by the foundation’s grant.
Melissa Walsh, vice president, AbbVie Foundation: It was really remarkable to see a dozen women show up who were just so thrilled that they didn’t have to get on a bus and go to the hospital and potentially not come into contact with people who spoke their language and could provide these incredibly routine but important services for these women at a time which under perfect circumstances is a vulnerable time for them.
VO: Mothers aren’t the only vulnerable population at the camp. Approximately half of the refugees at Skaramagas are under the age of 16.
While there is no opportunity for them to attend formal school, a group of refugees – teachers and professionals in their former countries – have created the makeshift Hope School.
Teacher: Maybe we are not the ideal school, but at least if they can benefit, you know, from anything we can teach them, it will be very good.
VO: The school also offers a sense of community and structure, teaching lessons about survival as well as arithmetic. Today, International Medical Corps visits Hope School to talk about hygiene.
VO: After fleeing war, only to land in a literal limbo, many children – as well as their parents – suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress. International Medical Corps has partnered with the BABEL Day Center to address the psychosocial needs of refugees living in camps around Athens.
BABEL Day Center director: We try to find practical solutions to their problems, and also to try to see the person as a whole, you know, like not victimize them and see a refugee that only has problems … because the people that are here, they are strong by definition, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. They managed to get here.
Dina: We’re dealing with real people and real families, they didn’t want this, they didn’t ask for this. They’re caught in this situation that has traumatized them beyond belief … This girl, boy, woman, man standing in front of you has needs, has come from so much pain and is scared, and has come to you for help, and is really not looking for you to turn your back on them and paint them as a threat.
Melissa Walsh: I knew the challenges were continuing for the families in these camps, I know that International Medical Corps feels its work is not done here, but I couldn’t have anticipated just how far from resolved this crisis really is.
The AbbVie Foundation extends its gratitude to International Medical Corps for all they have done, and continue to do, and to the families of Skaramagas refugee camp for allowing us to tell their stories.